PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1987 - JULY
Wednesday 1 July
My Sparky stories returned from Pan Books. Although I keep a kind of fantasy hope afloat that a publisher will snatch up my work I do not, in reality, expect anything other than the simplest of rejection letters. And yet the rejection hurts so that I don’t even want to examine the words of the letter. I only mention this because I realise how much of my life must be dominated by behaviour designed to protect me from too many of these hurt feelings. Consciously, I am more than happy to be criticised but my emotional make-up is clearly less willing to be stoned. Ultimately, though, I have to trade off (secretly in the recesses of my being) how much I believe in the stories I’ve written against my willingness to be told no. I say to myself - what is there to lose by continuing to send them to all and sundry? But my heart tells me I’m being stupid, they are not good enough - I’ve always said that. Will it always be true?
EEC summit fails on budget and air fares package. Riots in Rio when the local transport companies try to put up fares.
Sunday 5 July
I am so tired and lazy this weekend. Anxiety about the future has been stripped away, like taking a pack of my back after a long day’s march: FTBI will give me a six month contract to edit European Energy Report. The previous editor, Andy Holmes, has to build up his new newsletter, ‘Power Europe’, then when, and if, it can prove itself in terms of sales, FTBI will be able to justify a full-time job for European Energy Report. On Friday, I went to lunch with Dennis Kiley, the managing editor, and the other available energy group editors. In fact, the sub-group of energy is clearly defined: ‘International Coal Report’, Gerard McCloskey; ‘International Gas Report’, James Ball; ‘North Sea Letter’, David Tudball, Meg Leitch; ‘Power Europe’, Andy Holmes; ‘Energy Economist’, Chris Cragg; and now ‘European Energy Report’, Paul Lyons. Apart from EER, I have, in fact, written for four of the five others, so this is no random appointment. In fact, when I heard that EER was currently editor-less I did begin to mention to Gerard and Andy that it might be a reasonable job for me, that I might like it, not in any pushy way. And so the idea of me editing EER picked up momentum; the editors discussed it among themselves in huddles, and out popped a plan to give me a six month contract. The plan was then put to Kiley who appeared to accept it without hesitation. I liked the way the energy editors discussed this and how a plan emerged out of a consensus between them, as though they were partly responsible for what happened to EER. I have asked for £22,000 and two weeks holiday. Dennis has yet to see my cv and make a formal offer, but I doubt it will differ sharply from what I’ve asked.
EER is probably the only one of the newsletters I would seriously have considered: it needs organisational abilities more than specialised knowledge (which I don’t have, and I might as well never have left IPR if I were going to edit ICR or IGR). I have a slight problem in that EER only has a subscription base of 600, but it makes a net profit of £70,000, I’m told. I suppose if I am to stay in this line of business (and I need to now for purely financial reasons following purchase of the cottage - due for completion this coming Friday) then editing EER is not far off what I might consider the best available opportunity. Of course, there will be no chance of trips out of Europe but I may be able to journey to less likely venues in Europe - Portugal, Finland, Greece - if the brief, I’ve been told exists, continues.
So, there it is, a new job, another step. For a few days I do nothing, and I allow myself not to feel guilty for doing nothing. I can let my punishing schedule of writing 600-700 word stories every day die the death. Indeed I am thinking that for the coming six months I should not even try to write anything. There are plenty of things to do on this house, and there will be lots to do in Aldeburgh. And B and Baby will need much support. Also, no doubt, EER will be on my mind all the time for a while. However, I have proved that if pushed I can do it, I can write fictional stories every day, and I’ve oiled the imagination cells so they don’t get too rusty.
Monday 7 July
Progress on three fronts today, three fronts that have occupied my mental energy more than they should have done. An engineer came from Sun Alliance to look at the damage to the Honda; if I get a cheque for £400 or so from it, then I can more or less write the car off and buy another. I bought a new door to replace the rot-infested back door. A carpenter will come Wednesday to fit it, and I’ll need his advice on the rotten door step too. Also, I closed a building society account that required 90 days notice, but ended up losing £50 or so because of the 90 day complications.
Barbara. Despite her size, despite her knees, despite her indigestion problems, B looks so well and happy, truly she is blossoming. They do say, don’t they, (who?) that women often feel better during pregnancy than at any other time. Today, she attended her second ante-natal class: breathing, how to cope with the pain of contractions, and what positions are best. She has bought a maternity dress from Mothercare, the first she has bought rather than adapted. The adapted dresses have tended to hide her condition, while the Mothercare dress exaggerates her size, but it is light and summery, and gives her freedom of movement.
VP calls from the US and tells me a story about the birth of his child. Only eight months into her pregnancy, Kate woke in the middle of the night to find her waters had broken. Not much later, she was having contractions every 90 seconds. A doctor told him to get her to the hospital pronto. The police stopped him for speeding on the way, and then realising the urgency of the situation gave him an escort through red lights. At the hospital, Kate had to wait 40 minutes for the doctor. When he arrived the baby came out ‘plop’; and it all cost Vic $3,000.
I see Judy and Rob at the weekend. They’ve spent two weeks in Normandy stripping off the cares of the world. Sophie, who knows only how to smile, has started talking at 21 months. The parents find themselves flabbergasted at how much she understands and how she can now communicate sensibly.
Wednesday 8 July
Vera Caspary [second wife of my grandfather, Igee, Isadore Goldsmith] has died. I hear in a roundabout way. Mike Goldsmith [Igee’s oldest son and my uncle] tells Mary [Mike’s daughter and my cousin] who tells Mum who tells me. I feel very sad, she was a wonderful woman. I remember joking with her about her coming to London again, and giving lectures on a big liner. I met her only in three periods - on each of my trips to New York. The last, in winter 85, she was no longer compos mentis, and did not recognise me. But on my two previous trips, I spent some lovely evenings in her company. Her death helps me to believe that B and I’s child will be a girl, so that we can name her Laura [Vera’s most famous novel]. Where there is death, there is birth; where there is birth, there is death. She would have been so pleased to see a new generation of Goldsmiths born, even if she would have complained about them not being called Goldsmith. The Goldsmith name will survive thanks to Mike’s boys, Martin, Michael and Andrew. I will write to Mike about Vera, perhaps asking for a couple of her books. I don’t know why I never really resented his throwing so many of Dolly’s things away [in August 1977, when Dolly, his mother and Igee’s first wife, died].
While on the subject, I should mention ‘The Stars Look Down’. I’m currently reading the novel, upon which the famous film is based. In it I find a family called Todd (who do not appear in the film) which is of course my mother’s maiden name. And in this family, I find a Laura Todd and an Adam Todd - the two names currently in vogue for our baby.
A J Cronin’s novel is divided into three books. Yesterday, as I approached the end of the first book, I was filled with an enormous thrill as I realised the film [produced by Igee] was based on only a fraction of the novel: the great disaster scene, which forms the film’s climax, so brilliantly done, comes at the end of the first book. A few later sub-plots were been incorporated into the film - David Fenwick’s discovery of his wife’s adultery, Joe Gowlan’s further rise in society, Fenwick’s dismissal from school. But, I can now look forward to a further two-thirds of the story!
18 July, Aldeburgh
Here we are again at Aldeburgh for the second weekend in a row sitting in our £29,500 terraced cottage. 15 Leiston Road. There is so much to do, from roof through walls to floors. The hardest part is knowing how to organise the work, and how to get it done as efficiently and economically as possible. The surveyor’s report is extremely useful, and without it we wouldn’t even know where to begin, though it is difficult to gauge the real necessity of some of the work. Putting in a damp course, for example. This terrace has existed for well over 100 years without a damp course, why now? He brings our attention to the badly constructed lounge floor, and suggests we replace it with concrete because of the risk of dry rot - but why now?
This weekend, I’ve made a start by preparing the exterior woodwork, and I will paint some today. It is in poor condition with bare wood showing through. It feels like something constructive I can do, not dependant on other work. I have found two bits of rot, one in the back window which renders it inoperative (I shall go to Leiston this morning to try and replace it), and the other in the front door, which I have filled for the moment. No doubt we’ll need a new door eventually.
Monday 20 July
My old school buddy Colin has been here, and with us in Aldeburgh. He does laugh a lot with me and we joke like schoolboys, but he always returns to a brooding pensiveness when alone. That is I don’t mean he is brooding and pensive, rather that he seems so; he may just be concentrating on how to solve a problem, or to remember some little thing from days gone by. We drove to Snape Maltings. I lay on the wall looking out across the muddy flats of the river to a corn field where the wind blew the stalks in a ballet. There are two interest strands to his life. One is healthy, macrobiotic food, and it is now seven years that he has worked for a macrobiotic food company. The other is music, from which he must get most of his joy, his ‘deep flow’ or however one can best define those satisfying, all consuming times of one’s week-to-week life. Here too in music he probably finds the best connection with Hilde. Colin said Hilde now wants a child.
Tuesday 21 July
B continues absolutely radiant, her freckles shining, her eyes gleaming, a smile ever present on her face. She manages to be both lovely and beautiful at the moment. For days at a time she becomes quite manic, full of fluster, unable to stop talking, and quite impervious to the ills of her condition - at least until tiredness overtakes her all of a sudden, and then she stops, crashes in a chair, and says how weary she feels. Then, for a day or two, she will feel generally weary before perking up again to talk about everything and nothing (both usually connected with Laura/Adam or food). ‘I feel so chatty this morning,’ she said the other day. I had to laugh.
Another symptom that has become increasingly obvious over recent weeks is her forgetfulness. It’s as though all information, unless of direct value to the foetus, enters one ear and leaves by the other immediately. The simplest of facts are forgotten, where Thorpeness is, what a 2CV is, when an appointment is for.
During the weekends at Aldeburgh she has concentrated almost exclusively on food; while I am busy in the garden or painting or sanding, she prepares meals and cleans up from them. We are just like a normal husband and wife. We both feel this. We do not talk overmuch, but enjoy being together, walking by the sea, through the marshes, down to the baker, eating breakfast, or just listening to the radio. We discuss plans for the house, decorating schemes, schemes for the garden. In general, I am full of schemes and ideas for positive action, while B acts as a brake, using a veto occasionally, and generally restraining my ideas. Often I am concerned that everything is coming from me, and that B is just agreeing with me for a quiet life. But, in fact, her impact into decision-taking is considerable: whenever I test her, by pretending to push for something, some action I’m not concerned about myself or I think might be against B’s will, she either knows I’m pretending and calls my bluff, or quite seriously stands up against it - either way, thus, clearly showing that she is not just kow-towing. And it is quite remarkable to what extent we do have the same taste. The first weekend we found an old set of crockery - a very common style one finds in church halls but in pastel yellow shade rather than green. It was chipped and the pieces were slightly different sizes and shapes, but the whole was quite in our image of things. We did not buy it immediately, but whilst walking around Leiston came to the conclusion that we must have it. The yellow cups and saucers go brilliantly in our pink kitchen!
Another example, the concrete slabs in the garden. The titchy garden at Aldeburgh is more than 50% covered in concrete slabs. Certainly, it looks tidy, but I wanted to remove most of the slabs in order to provide room for a vegetable garden. Barbara hesitated. It seemed to her, at first, that having such an untidy house, there was no point in creating chaos in the garden. I said the sooner we dug the slabs up the sooner we could begin work on creating our own garden, and that, unlike other works in the house, it was not dependant on doing something first. She was not agin this, and we worked out which slabs we should pull up, leaving a single pathway through to the hut and to the back. With Colin’s help, and his Dad’s crowbar, we did indeed pull them up (to discover perfectly good soil underneath). Had I been left to my own devices, I would have pulled up almost double as many slabs, leaving the grass patch near the house without any paving surround.
But what is happening to B’s body? She continues to get fatter. The blighter is kicking around as wild as ever. It makes me go quite queer when I feel the strength of its kicking and a limb scrapes around the insides of B’s womb. In fact, the movements are entirely visible, even through her clothes sometimes. Officially she’s still four weeks away (or five weeks by the latest scan), but I suspect she will give birth early (if her genes have any sense at all they’ll know she’s a small and act accordingly). We go over what she must do in the hospital - the breathing exercises, the pelvic floor exercises, the need for pain killers, the possibility of an episiotomy. She will prefer not to have pain killers. However, I think most first-timers need some relief.
I read the NCT childbirth book avidly. My role will be as the supporter, the comforter. There are a few practical things I can do - reinforce her breathing routines during contractions, sponge her brow, massage her back. The decisions about painkillers will have to be hers. I can neither tell her to bear more pain or advise her not to bear so much. She will make her mind known. Apart from the oxygen mixture, the other reliefs do pass through the baby’s system, and it is this that B will try to avoid. She has lived through her pregnancy super-conscious of keeping her systems free of all poisons - keeping foods as pure as possible, keeping away from medicines. She’s been - to her mind - quite liberal with alcohol, allowing herself a quarter of a Guinness once a week. Nothing will persuade her to drink more. Otherwise she has been known to take a sip of champagne on someone’s birthday. B justifies this by claiming it is her conscience at stake. She may not need to be quite so puritanical, but should anything happen, then she might blame herself if she hadn’t done everything in her power to keep the foetus right.
On Monday we go to the proms. I chose this Prom for Williams’ ‘Job: a masque of dancing’ and Britten’s 1st Violin Concerto, but I came away most impressed with a Spanish piece by Falla. My head is so full of practical things, it will not relax sufficiently for music. I never felt much of it going in deep. Britten’s concerto didn’t appeal as much as I thought it would, although there were some haunting bits, in particular a solo in the middle, played by Ira Haendel. The most poignant of the Williams’ pieces seemed to be those he had taken from folk tunes. He was less successful with large-scale orchestration or so I felt. B’s backache detracted from Job, but some funny joint walking and pavement dancing in the interval set that right.
The Albert Memorial is protected by a square of boardings around. Small notices proclaim Norman St John-Stevas’ fear that in a few years all that will be left of Albert will be the steps - for the cast iron framework rotting. Restoration and proper drainage must be done to save Albert. Yes, but let Queenie restore it, not government.
In the garden at Aldershot Road my giant lilies have flowered. Each of the twin stems has 20 buds, and their orange is contrasted by pink hydrangeas now in full bloom. The apple tree branches are laden with fruit, almost to breaking; the quince supports a few fruits, the coriander weeds have a crop of seed pods. Both my prolific yellow rose and the new clematis prepare for a second show of colour. Leaf miner eats in the Michaelmas daisy and makes forays into the leaves of the chrysanthemum and salix. I make a mock pergola from wood found in skips, and train the clematis along it. The garden looks so pretty from the bedroom.
In the study I stick up a few b&w photos and the b&w calendar I appropriated from work, so that the view towards them from the stairs or the hall has a striking effect, somewhat 3D and somewhat arty. Although the first long distance through-views in this house came about by accident, I have since been conscious of creating more. There is the one through from the downstairs hall into the parlour and into the kitchen; there is the view from my bedroom along the long flowerbed outside; and one from the back upper hall into the sitting room. When one arrives in a room one settles to do something definite, but while travelling from room to room one’s eyes are open and receptive - therefore, interesting, lively, aesthetic sight-lines are a MUST. I try and leave all relevant doors half ajar for the best effects.
I spend two evenings on the trot watching television; last night it was a new film called ‘Land’, portraying the conflict between peasants and landowners in Brazil. Such a treat to hear Brazilian Portuguese being spoken. A single word in the language can, instantly, make me feel sad or nostalgic. I recognised none of the actors for, although it was a BBC production, they were mostly Brazilians: the state governor of Rondonia, for example, was played by David Dantas, the brother in the soap (novela) Sinha Moca. The peasants were the goodies and the state governor was the baddie - though the film did illustrate that the governor may have been ignorant of the extent of his henchmen’s violence. The film was simply compiled, with quiet effective direction, about the struggle of the people to climb above mere slave-dom into owning a piece of land, even at the cost of their lives. The narrative was flawed, and the ending too much of a fairy tale, but still worth a watch. The night before Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas entertained me in a 40s Marlowe type thriller. Why do we adore these movies - it must be like so many other trends and fashions in society - a kind of social resonance, that bounces from generation to generation.
Such a lazy week. It takes a lazy week, without work, to really catch up on diary entries. And still there is so much around the house to do. I’ve had a new back door put in. It must have cost close on £150 altogether, what with the carpenter, the door and the glass. And I haven’t finished yet, for it needs sealing from draught. It’s an all glass door, so that now, when I come through from the parlour, I keep thinking the back door is open. But if there’s work to do on Aldershot Road, then there’s hard labour to do on Leiston Road. Colin is there with Hilde this week, he may replace the kitchen window which was rotten across a corner.
In the wide world, the Middle East hots up a few more degrees; Gorbachev makes yet another arms concession; Poindexter takes the blame for Iran-Contra; Thatcher fails to win any legal battles against Wright; and Jeffrey Archer struggles through a libel case, against ‘The Star’, which has done more to ruin his reputation than ‘The Star’ did in the first place.
During the last few days, the attention of the world has focused on a few Kuwaiti vessels steaming into the Persian Gulf via the Straits of Hormuz. These vessels have been flagged with the stars and stripes to protect them from Iranian attacks. The Kuwaitis once best buddies with Iran out of political necessity could stand their buddies no longer, and turned to the most powerful friends it could find. It appears both the Soviets and the Americans vied for the friendship, but the US offered the most. Well, perhaps, that the tiniest bit simplistic. Now the world watches and waits to see if the Iranians will attack the US flagged oil tankers (ironically it is Europe and Iran that rely most heavily on Persian Gulf oil). Most commentators believe it would be suicidal of the Iranians to attack the US flagged ships, as this would give the US the perfect excuse to retaliate. But there’s no telling what the capricious and god-guided fanatics will do next. The United Nations has just passed a unanimous Security Council resolution calling on Iran and Iraq to stop the war. The Russians and Americans both believe now, at last, they should make serious attempts to douse the Iran-Iraq conflict instead of, perhaps, fuelling it with profitable arms sales. Khomeini’s fundamentalism is perceived as a threat also by the Arab states.
I had a rash of mouth ulcers for 10 days. From where they come I know not.
And now to the smaller world of Brent, and the politics of what to do with cemeteries. About 40 people turned up for a public meeting about the plans to open up Willesden Lane Cemetery. Having used and enjoyed the cemetery lots since my return, I felt rather peeved to hear it was going to be turned into something of a park. I felt the need to do my bit to try and preserve the quiet and tranquility of the place. The meeting was held at Salusbury School. An Indian, the Kilburn councillor, chaired the meeting with three people directly concerned in the plans. It didn’t take long for me to agree with them. Apparently Brent bought the cemetery from Westminster (it was called Paddington Cemetery) just a couple of years ago, in order to carry through these plans of making it more accessible. The plans include a small area for toddlers and aged persons by the entrance, to be built on land previously occupied by greenhouses and currently unused; two blocks to be nurtured back to nature as wildlife reserves; a garden of remembrance which will allow people to scatter ashes; an entrance through the wall to a school, so that the cemetery can be used for educational purposes; and a new public entrance at the corner of Tennyson and Lonsdale Roads.
Although I realise that these changes are the beginning of the end - the cemetery will never again be peaceful or as tranquil as it is now - I cannot condone keeping it as it is, given the time and trouble put into these development plans, and the obvious sincerity of the officials to do right by as many people as possible. Unfortunately there was not one resident there to lobby for green space, instead the meeting was attended by tiresome people with their own axe to grind. Most of them didn’t want the new entrance because it would create more traffic through the cemetery. And we discussed at length the philosophy of whether dogs should be allowed, what a garden of remembrance is, and how much advanced publicity this meeting had been given. On this latter point, the spokesman for the Priory Park Neighbourhood Association told us repeatedly how they had circulated 1,000 homes with details of the meeting. Later, though, I discovered that those details were wrong, for the wrong date was given - groan.
No trip to Aldeburgh this weekend. Both B and I feel miserable independently. How does one fill up a whole weekend in the city? Martin rings from Boston. He is on his way to NY. I tell him to dig up as much as he can about Vera. He has seen Fred. I wonder if they talked about me, if he told him I was going to be a father?
England do badly in the fourth test. They allow Pakistan to amass over 400 runs. I suspect there’ll be another innings defeat. Why did they let Botham bowl so long?
I reach the end of this journal book, and as yet have not decided how to continue diary writing. I think to write my diary directly onto the computer, but then what about weekends in Aldeburgh? I’ll have to write long hand, and type the entries up on my return to the city. Why didn’t I start my recording on computer in Brazil? I suppose I was in front of the green screen more than enough each day already.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG